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Cell Biol Educ. 2005 Winter;4(4):323-9.

Teaching systems biology: an active-learning approach.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Life Sciences Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2216, USA.


With genomics well established in modern molecular biology, recent studies have sought to further the discipline by integrating complementary methodologies into a holistic depiction of the molecular mechanisms underpinning cell function. This genomic subdiscipline, loosely termed "systems biology," presents the biology educator with both opportunities and obstacles: The benefit of exposing students to this cutting-edge scientific methodology is manifest, yet how does one convey the breadth and advantage of systems biology while still engaging the student? Here, I describe an active-learning approach to the presentation of systems biology. In graduate classes at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, I divided students into small groups and asked each group to interpret a sample data set (e.g., microarray data, two-hybrid data, homology-search results) describing a hypothetical signaling pathway. Mimicking realistic experimental results, each data set revealed a portion of this pathway; however, students were only able to reconstruct the full pathway by integrating all data sets, thereby exemplifying the utility in a systems biology approach. Student response to this cooperative exercise was extremely positive. In total, this approach provides an effective introduction to systems biology appropriate for students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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